NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public Colleges Spend Six Times More on Athletes

January 24, 2013

A new report by the Delta Cost Project and the American Institutes for Research has found that public colleges and universities competing in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I athletics spend three to six times more on athletes than they spend to educate students.

  • The costs associated with athletic programs rose twice as fast as academic spending between 2005 and 2010.
  • Spending per athlete totaled $92,000 for institutions in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) while spending on full-time students' education was less than $14,000.
  • When factoring in all sports, spending totaled about $38,000 per athlete compared to $11,800 per non-athlete student.

Most athletic departments are not self-sufficient and receive income subsidies to cover their revenue shortfalls. Indeed, 75 percent of athletic departments in the FBS receive subsidies, which typically come from the institution's coffers or students' pockets. While the rest of the country has been tightening its belt during the economic recession, Division I schools have continued to invest in their athletic programs, despite shrinking academic budgets.

  • Spending in the "power conferences," such as the Southeastern Conference, Big 12, Pacific 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Big East, topped $100,000 per athlete in 2010.
  • The top 25 percent of spenders in the FBS spend an average of $16,500 per student and $149,711 per athlete.
  • Nearly 8 percent of athletic budgets for football schools come from students while students in schools without football programs pay more than 70 percent of the athletic budgets.
  • Salaries and compensation comprise more than 33 percent of any given athletic budget.

In sum, athletic spending at public colleges and universities totaled $6 billion during fiscal year 2010. Advocates of college athletics believe that sports programs stimulate school pride, increase public awareness, attract more donations and develop well-rounded students.

Source: Donna M. Desrochers, "Athletic Departments in Most NCAA Division I Public Colleges Spend Three to Six Times More Per Athlete Than Their Institutions Spend to Educate Each Student," American Institutes for Research, January 2013. Donna M. Desrochers, "Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?" Delta Cost Project, January 2013.


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